The following series of interviews contrasts the opportunity voters have (or don't have) Nov. 4th to address the infrastructure needs of critical public institutions and priority services. The first interview, "The Good," is an MIR exclusive with LACCD Chancellor Mark Drummond; the second interview, "The Bad," is a "Which Way L.A.?" interview with host Warren Olney and LAUSD Citizens Bond Oversight Committee Chair Connie Rice; the third interview, "The Ugly," is an MIR exclusive with MWD General Manager Jeff Kightlinger.
The following article appeared in the MIR insert included in the September 2008 issue of The Planning Report.
The GOOD (Measure J)
Outline Measure J, the $3.5 billion bond measure for the L.A. Community College District. Why is it important and what does it contain?
Mark Drummond, Los Angeles Community College District Chancellor: The primary motivation is the general state of workforce training capabilities in Los Angeles County. There are three pieces of this bond. There's a piece for workforce training facilities, which I will elaborate on. A second piece is what we're calling "The Greening," which is basically our attempts to get largely off the power grid and go to sustainable and renewable energy sources such as photovoltaic, wind, and geothermal. We're already quite a ways down that path, and we have a plan to be completely down that path by the end of 2009, which means we will be about 80 percent energy independent.
That's important for two reasons. One reason is because we will save on utility bills and help the planet, but also we will have training laboratories on each campus for these newest technologies: fuel cell, solar, both heating and cooling, and power generation, to teach students these careers of the future. That's not a big piece of the money: it will use a couple hundred million to finish the whole nine colleges.
The last piece is to complete what wasn't completed with A/AA. We did almost everything we intended, but the inflation of steel and concrete made us cut short a couple of projects, and we need to finish those just to be sure our campuses are consistent.
The primary motivation for this measure, however, is jobs, which is why it's called "Measure J." The benefit is this: First of all, we currently have the capability to train between 7,500 and 10,000 people in career technical education at any given time in our entire system. For example, fire fighters, nurses, police officers, the whole range of health care workers, industrial workers, construction workers, all the different trades and skills that we teach. Our current facilities only allow for about 10,000 people to be in the mix, and most of those are at L.A. Trade Tech, the original career-tech college in the district. This causes a problem, because we have eight colleges throughout the county that aren't really equipped to train the workforce that we need to replace the current retiring workforce. For instance, DWP and SoCal Edison can't really replace their infrastructure workers. We can train those people but we don't currently have the facilities to do that. Metro, and of course the ports, can't get enough compressed natural gas technicians to maintain equipment. Union Pacific can't get enough mechanics to keep their trains running properly. We're getting all kinds of pressure for infrastructure jobs that have an aging, retiring workforce, and they can't get new workers trained.
At the same time, for every 100 students that enters the ninth grade in L.A. Unified, only 32 ever show up to college for any post-high school training. We have all these kids that are failing, not getting trained, and not getting middle class jobs. This is really a great effort to, first of all, build pipelines to get these young people into schools, into these career paths, and to build the facilities on all of our campuses to be able to train people in the new, green technologies, the health care professions and public safety careers, all things that are needed in L.A. County.
This is all based on a completely redone set of educational master plans. We worked on those for over a year. Every college has taken an occupational survey. They've reworked their curriculums. They know what they need to do and want to do, which was translated into the building plan. It varies from college to college, but each one will have new facilities to train the future workforce for whatever is happening in their area.
This is your second tenure as chancellor. You were there for Prop. A and its opportunities for the nine campuses. Talk about how that money was spent and how much more money is still needed for the ninth campus.
Look at the master plan: A and AA have done about 92 percent of what was intended on the master plan. Every campus has some small deficiency, with an exception of Southwest College, which is really totally rebuilt and has very little left that needs to be done as far A/AA. The other end of the spectrum is probably East L.A. College, because a lot of the money there had to go for the parking infrastructure. It's very congested. There are 30,000 students there now. It's a very congested area, and there was no parking. We had to do a lot to develop appropriate parking structures. We also built a very large fine and performing arts complex. That leaves quite a bit of work.
It varies from college to college, but again, if you look at the master plans from 2001 with Measure A, and you look where we are today, you'll see that we completed about 92-94 percent of those master plans. There's a remaining 6-8 percent that needs to be done. On one campus that might be sidewalks and landscaping, on another campus it might be the science building.
Given the planning capabilities in 2001 and given unforeseen inflation-the cost almost doubled for some building components-we really did justice to A and AA. I think that we delivered what we said we would to the taxpayers.
The BAD (LAUSD's Measure Q)
Warren Olney: In 1997 Los Angeles metropolitan voters approved a LAUSD Facilities Bond, Proposition BB, which raised $2.4 billion. One condition of that bond was that a citizen's advisory board would be set up to watch how the bond funds were being spent. Since 1997, voters have approved additional facilities bonds totaling $13 billion. The current chair of the LAUSD Citizens Bond Oversight Committee is civil rights attorney and civic activist, Connie Rice. You took a look at this proposed new $7 billion facilities bond by the LAUSD School Board and you used the word "incompetent." What did you mean?
Connie Rice, Citizens Bond Oversight Committee Chair: Exactly that. This process was unrecognizable to me, and I have been through three bonds. I agree with (LAUSD School Board) President Garcia; absolutely, the money is needed. There is a $60 billion gap between what is needed for existing facilities and new facilities and what we have, even after our bond program. It's not a question of need. The question is how this bond process was carried out.
In order for a bond to be carried out, you must have a superintendent that is fully engaged in a leadership position a full year before you even begin polling. We couldn't force the superintendent to become engaged; we begged him. He did not get engaged soon enough. So the facilities division took on that leadership role, and it was not their role. That's number one. Number two; the board cannot get engaged at as late of a date as it did. They were dealing with payroll fiascoes and all this other stuff that was just ridiculous, but they had to deal with it. They weren't focused on this, and it shows in the process.
When I arrived at the bond oversight committee, which had to hold an emergency special meeting to consider this bond, the material, two inches of paper, was put on our table five minutes before the meeting started. I'm a lawyer. You cannot vote to approve something that is two inches thick when you've had absolutely no opportunity to review the document. And the documents changed after we voted on them. I don't know why they even bothered the bond oversight committee for any approval, but they certainly didn't get our approval on this, at least not the three of us-the co-chair, Miss Elizabeth Bar-El, and myself.
It's not a question of need, but what people need to understand is that the reason that three bonds have passed is because we have a facilities division, not a board and not a School District, that is not part of the district-it is run by military engineers. The district cannot touch the money without it being put into a strategic execution plan. We have a competent facilities division. My criticisms of this process have to do with the board and the superintendent's leadership on this.
If you want the mayor's input (and you should get the mayor's input), it cannot be done three weeks before the deadline. That's too late. And the polling that was done is not specific enough. So, the bottom line is, I've seen circuses run better than this, and there is no way that I can put my approval on it.
Previous bonds we have done thumbs up because it was well laid out, it was led properly, and voters and the public had a chance to give their input on it. Bottom line is, I don't know what is in this bond.
The other point is that the district does not understand what its role is. The district needs to have a comprehensive charter policy. You don't start negotiating charter policies in the middle of a bond. That's not how you do it. They failed to get the charter policy that includes charters, that's why it ended up being such a mess on the charter. You also have to have a long-term maintenance program. We've asked for seven years for enough of a general fund to be allocated to keep up the new buildings that we are building. They don't have it. How do you think we got into this position of needing $60 billion in the first place? There's no long-term maintenance plan. You have to have a strategic vision that guides the building of the schools. They're still working on that. So, there are a number of things wrong with this picture. It was too chaotic, it was not led properly, and that is why I voted "no."
You said you've agreed that the Los Angles Unified School district needs the money, which is $7 billion. You said it really needs $60 billion, even after this is spent. Are you going to campaign against it?
No, that's not my role. What I'm insisting on is that this district gets its act together, and I don't see any evidence of that...
The UGLY (No Water Bond)
This summer, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Senator Dianne Feinstein proposed a compromise plan to update California's water system by increasing storage, improving conveyance, protecting the Delta's ecosystem, and promoting water conservation. Given such bipartisan recognition of a water crisis and the need for an immediate solution, why isn't there a state water bond on the November 4th ballot?
Jeff Kightlinger, General Manager MWD: The proposal from the governor and Senator Feinstein was a very good proposal. It was balanced and fair. There were also a number of legislative proposals that were quite similar in scope that had some tweaks and changes, but by and large, they were similar. Logic would have said we should be able to get together and find a consensus on one of these bonds. There were a number of reasons we didn't. One of those reasons was the budget impasse. It became hard to work on water in addition to the budget. The fact that we couldn't put together a budget until 70 or 80 days late had a definite impact on the water bond.
Another major reason was that some felt it was premature. We know we have a water crisis and a need for water infrastructure; we know we need a water bond and we need the financing for those water projects. However, the governor had launched the Delta Vision project, which is due to come out with a report in October 2008. I think there was some reluctance to put together a bond that was going to deal with Delta issues and move it forward when the Delta Vision's final report hasn't yet been released.
Isn't our water supply in a crisis today? Does the state have the time to delay making those bond funds available?
We are in a crisis. You have to remember that a bond is going to collect funds, but we still need our environmental impact reports and environmental studies done before you can actually start building projects. Currently, the governor's office has begun the environmental review process for a Delta habitat and conveyance fix and those documents won't be ready until 2010. Some people were saying that we're pushing the bond financing, but we can't spend the dollars until we have the environmental reports. There seemed to be a disconnect in the timing. But, everyone agrees we have a crisis today.
A third issue that played into the timing was the fact that the state still has a fair amount of unspent bond funds. We just passed Propositions 1E and 84 a couple of years ago. Those have significant dollars for water and flood control projects. Some members of the Legislature were saying that we have several billion dollars unspent in existing bond authorization, so let's spend that, get work done on this current crisis, wait until the Delta review processes are complete, and then come in with the big water bond to fix the rest of it. A water bond is critical-we hope it will be ready for 2010.
What are the risks faced by California and our water ecosystems between now and the time we could implement and spend the bond past 2010? Is the $9.3 billion bond proposal that the governor and senator are pressing for the right number?
It's about the right number, because we need some big fixes. We need dollars for the Delta and we need large dollars for ecosystem restoration on the Delta. We're going to need more storage and there were large dollars in that bond for those. We're going to need more local projects like groundwater cleanup, ocean desalination, and recycling, and there were dollars designated for that. The missing piece that people are not talking about is that there were no dollars for Delta conveyance, which is one of the number one priorities that the state has to address. That's because the water users have agreed to fund a conveyance fix. There does not need to be a bond for Delta conveyance; it can be funded with ratepayers' dollars so the state doesn't need to go further into debt.
In the meantime, there's quite a bit that still can be done. There's a bill before the governor now, SB 1XX, that is going to appropriate and spend almost $900 million from Propositions 84 and 1E. That's money we can start spending right away in 2009 and start moving on short-term interim pieces of the Delta fix while the long-term solution comes together. There's a fair amount of money in SB 1XX for groundwater cleanup and local projects that would be very helpful to Southern California. We can spend that money between now and 2010, complete the Delta review, complete the Delta Vision package, complete the environmental review processes and hopefully address the rest of the state's water system in 2010.